Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Taken -- depths of a father's love

Director, Pierre Morrel, 2008.

Every parent's fear, every father's nightmare: your child is taken, kidnapped. Usually this fear is focused around young children who need the protection of their parents 24x7. But Taken highlights the theme of human trafficking for prostitution, a particularly evil scenario.

Liam Neeson is Bryan Mills, a retired CIA preventer. He has quit his job so he can try to get closer to his estranged 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Having essentially abandoned her for his career, he hardly knows her and their relationship is superficial at best. This is clear in his purchase of a birthday gift for her at the start of the film: a karaoke machine. She is surprised by this gift but quickly dismisses it when she sees the horse her stepdad gives her. Mills is lost in the memories of his daughter captured in the few birthday photographs he has of her. But this is not her now.

When she invites him on a date, Mills is elated. But she drops the bombshell on him that she wants to go to Paris with a friend for the summer. He sees his efforts to get closer to her go up in smoke. Moreover, he sees the potential for danger that she is deliberately blind to. But her mom Lenore (Famke Janssen) also came along, and the mother-daughter pair bring an agenda. Kim needs his written permission. He immediately disagrees. When confronted with the truth, "You sacrificed our marriage to the service of the country; can't you sacrifice a little one time for your own daughter?", he retorts, "I would sacrifice anything for her." This is the truth, and it prepares us for what is to come.

Kim gets to go with her friend but as soon as they arrive at their Paris apartment, she realizes her friend has lied to her. And within minutes, both are abducted, taken by unseen men. They have become the targets of an Albanian mafia group, intent on addicting them to drugs and then forcing them into a life of prostitution or selling them as sex slaves: a hell on earth.

While Kim ponders her friend's deceit, we understand the lies she, too, has told. She deceived her father by telling only part of the truth, knowing that if he knew her real plans she would not get to go. She is naive to the ugliness of the world outside of her rich-kid's bubble. She sees life as a grand adventure: it is her horse to ride. But life has its seedy side, and she will get to see this first-hand.

Too often, we tell half-truths, holding part of the truth back for fear that our grand plans will be disapproved if the entire truth emerged. But half-truths are simply lies with a colored facade, sugar coating to make them easier to swallow. They may gain approval at first, but they build upon one another until a house of cards is created. And this house hovers on the brink of discovery and then destruction (Prov. 15:11).

If the deceit of the daughter got Kim into this impossible situation, it's the skills of the father that will get her out. As the kidnapping is underway, Kim is on the phone to her dad. And so Mills hears first-hand what is happening to his little girl. When the call is finally discovered, Mills tells her kidnapper:
I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
And he is deadly serious. After calling in some favors from ex-CIA friends, he discovers the name of the person who took her, from the recording of a mere two words. He is told he essentially has 96 hours to find her or the chance of recovery falls close to zero. The chase is on.

Taken is filled with cheesy dialogue like this. (I mean who actually speaks this way, even under duress.) It has plot development that is totally implausible. And it has fast-paced action that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Director Morrell proved he could direct action in his only earlier film, District B-13. Here he stages two major car-chase sequences and choreographed fights galore.

Bryan Mills as Kim's father makes us reflect on the role of a father. Fathers are supposed to be protectors and providers, listeners and counselors. Mills did very little as a father for Kim, except provide for her. But when her hour of deepest need is at hand, he is finally ready to step up.

Most of us will not have the skills of a CIA operative, but we have something more valuable: personal involvement. As fathers, we need to develop relationships with our kids. We must be present physically. Kids need the unconditional love and affirmation of a father who is there for them. More than this, we must be present emotionally also. Kids need a sensitive listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and a father to tell them the ground rules. Fathers have a wisdom and maturity that can provide an even-keeled approach to life. Kim missed out on this. Let's not let our kids miss out on it too.

As Mills goes on the offensive, he is willing to do anything to find his daughter, even if that means resorting to the level of those he is hunting. Taken has moments of brutality and torture, showing the feral side of man. Mills acts like a wounded animal, as indeed he is. Yet, would we stoop to torture and murder another person to save our own child? Would we become a sociopath to find a sociopath? When does revenge take precedence over rescue?

In its own way, though, Taken shows the great love of a father in search of his daughter. It shows the depths he will descend to rescue his child. It is a picture, of sorts, of the love our heavenly father has for us. We are all like Kim. We have lied to God, deceived him, broken the rules set for us, decided to go our own way (Rom. 3:10-18), since that seems more fun than his "over-protective" path. But when we have woken up in our own pool of brokenness, we realize we need a father more than we need our independence.

God has descended into the depths of this world, becoming like us, becoming one of us in Christ (Phil. 2:7-8). In this way, he has come looking for each one of us. He has found us and reaches out to you and to me. We can choose to grasp his hand and allow him to pull us free, to take us into his embrace, and to give us what we all crave more than anything: love. He will care for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He will provide for us (Phil. 4:19). He will protect us (Ps. 32:7). He will be all that a father should be. Will we let him? As Kim is reconciled to Mills, her real father, in the Hollywood-ending, will we be reconciled to our father through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:18)? That could be your Hollywood-ending.

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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